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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

When the Peo­ple Move, the Mu­sic Moves Too Mek­lit Six De­grees Records So It Is Preser­va­tion Hall Jazz Band Legacy/Sony The su­per­charged horns of New Or­leans’ re­gen­er­ated Preser­va­tion Hall Jazz Band may ig­nite stand­out tracks on When the Peo­ple Move, the Mu­sic Moves Too and So It Is, but both re­leases draw pri­mary power from off­shore in­flu­ences. These lu­mi­nous new Amer­i­can al­bums re­spec­tively plug into the elec­tric­ity and eth­nic­ity of Ethiopian and Cuban mu­sic. Both are en­tirely log­i­cal and un­sur­pris­ing as­so­ci­a­tions.

Ethiopian by birth but long-time US-based singer and com­poser Mek­lit Hadero’s lat­est wax­ing is laced with the mes­meris­ing modes of her an­ces­try, which are per­fectly ar­tic­u­lated by the brass sec­tion of the Preser­va­tion Hall Jazz Band on prime cuts. The in­flu­ence of so-called Ethio jazz — tech­ni­cally the di­min­ished 12-tone scale that gives the mu­sic its dis­tinc­tive swirling sound — shim­mers be­hind and be­tween sev­eral of the TED se­nior lec­turer’s in­sight­ful and hu­man­i­tar­ian-minded songs.

So It Is, the umpteenth al­bum from the ven­er­a­ble Preser­va­tion Hall Jazz Band, a long­stand­ing in­sti­tu­tion in New Or­leans’ French Quar­ter, draws on Cuban dance mu­sic — the legacy of a “life-chang­ing” tour of Amer­ica’s Caribbean is­land neigh­bour in 2015 that has edged the en­sem­ble away from its trad jazz base. Blessed with an im­pres­sively ex­pres­sive and mel­liflu­ous voice that evokes Nina Si­mone and other soul and jazz di­vas, Mek­lit has a chameleonic ca­pac­ity to shapeshift. She’s most vis­ceral dur­ing an in­spired re­work­ing of You Got Me that trans­ports the Roots-Erykah Badu late 1990s hit to 70s Ad­dis Ababa as the Preser­va­tion Hall horns em­u­late classic Ethio-jazz play­ing.

Pluck­ing tra­di­tional krar lyre over a drone, Mek­lit im­bues Mem­o­ries of the Fu­ture with ru­ral north­east African am­bi­ence. Birth­day Song morphs from Ethiopian to Dix­ieland in flavour, courtesy of a tail-end jam be­tween the Preser­va­tion Hall Jazz Band’s so­prano sax­o­phon­ist, trum­peter and tuba player. In I Want to Sing for Them All, ac­com­pa­nied by An­drew Bird’s jazzy vi­olin and an Ethio-jazz riff, Mek­lit name-checks some of her Ethiopian and Amer­i­can mu­sic heroes, such as Mu­latu As­tatke, Aster Aweke, Prince and John Coltrane.

The Preser­va­tion Hall Jazz Band’s Cuban con­nec­tion is overtly preva­lent in the scorch­ing Afro-Latin grooves and blaz­ing trum­pet and bravura trom­bone solo­ing that fire up La Malanga and Santiago — the un­doubted high­lights of So It Is.

Sassy Cuban-es­que horn lines coun­ter­bal­ance a more spir­i­tu­ally driven key­board com­po­nent in In­no­cence. Al­though it opens as a fu­ne­real shuf­fle (al­beit one punc­tu­ated by bursts of funky Ham­mond or­gan), One Hun­dred Fires trans­mo­gri­fies into more up­beat tra­di­tional Mardi Gras ter­rain.

New Or­leans sec­ond line drum­ming in ca­hoots with Louisianan piano rolls pro­vides the pulse for the blues and gospel-charged Con­ver­gence. Ex­u­ber­ant chant­ing of lines such as “Makes no dif­fer­ence what you do / I ain’t mad at you” and hand­clap­ping in­vest sign-off track Mad with manic en­ergy.

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